By Gabriel Tan
In an open and entertaining first half that somehow failed to produced any goals, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha missed an excellent chance to give the hosts the lead when he saw his penalty saved by Hyrulnizam Juma'at after three minutes.
However, he eventually made amends in the 73rd minute when he laid on an assist for S. Chanturu to score a stunning opener, before the visitors' resistance gradually crumbled, allowing Norfarhan Mohammad and Rizal Fahmi Rosid to weigh in with further strikes.
With only five points separating them and league leaders LIONSXII before kickoff, and with three games in hand, the Red Warriors entered Friday's game aware that a win would put them firmly in the driving seat in the title race.
And the hosts were handed the perfect chance to take the lead three minutes in when they were awarded a penalty after Isa Halim had clumsily felled Norfarhan inside the area. Kelantan talisman Norshahrul confidently stepped up to the spot, only to see his well-struck effort kept out by a brilliant save from Hyrulnizam.
Six minutes later, the visitors made their first foray up the field and nearly broke the deadlock after a delightful delivery from Shahdan Sulaiman caused havoc inside the Kelantan box. LIONSXII captain Shahril Ishak pounced on the ball and fired in a shot which forced Khairul Fahmi into a good save, before Hariss Harun's follow-up effort was blocked on the line by his own team-mate Safuwan Baharudin.
Gradually, the hosts started to dominate proceedings, with Chanturu in particular looking very dangerous, terrorising the opposition full-backs at every opportunity with his pace and skill. On one of his excellent bursts down the right, he carved out a good opening for Nurul Azwan after drilling in a low cross, only to see his team-mate miss the target with the goal at his mercy.
The LIONSXII were struggling to get enough of the ball to mount a serious assault on the Kelantan goal, and were instead left to make the most of their set-plays. And it was from one such situation in the 27th minute when they came agonisingly close to scoring again.
Hariss Harun did well to meet an Irwan Shah corner and powered a header that came smashing back off the crossbar and straight to Khairul Nizam, who attempted an overhead kick from four yards out, only to be denied by a brave save from Fahmi.
LIONSXII coach V. Sundramoorthy's plans were thrown into disarray right before the break after centre-back Safuwan limped off with an injury, and his absence was felt straight after the restart as the Red Warriors began to find more time and space in their attacking third.
In the 55th minute, Hyrulnizam was called into action again when he had to tip away a looping shot from Chanturu, but there was little he could do 18 minutes later when the winger finally broke the deadlock with a fabulous strike.
Receiving the ball on the right, Norshahrul easily made his way past Sevki Sha'ban, who had come on as Safuwan's replacement, before floating a cross towards Chanturu at the far post. Despite the ball being slightly behind him, the Malaysia international leapt into the air and produced a stunning scissor-kick that arrowed straight into the bottom corner.
While they had to wait a long time to open the scoring, it took the Red Warriors just four minutes to double their advantage with a well-worked team move. Norshahrul was once again involved, cheekily dummying a ball into the path of Badri Radzi on the edge of the area. Without taking a touch, the Kelantan skipper played an incisive through-ball to Norfarhan, who clinically fired past Hyrulnizam to make it 2-0 to the hosts.
With their fourth defeat of the season now looking increasingly likely, the LIONSXII mustered one final attempt to get back into the game and came close in the 83rd minute, when Nizam leapt well to power a header towards goal, only to be denied by a brilliant save from Fahmi.
Two minutes later, the contest was well and truly over when Chanturu played the ball to the edge of into the path of substitute Rizal, who unleashed a 30-yard piledriver that sailed straight into the top corner, leaving Hyrulnizam with no chance whatsoever.
The victory means Kelantan are now just two points behind the LIONSXII with three games still in hand, but the manner in which they beat their fellow contenders could have a bigger bearing on where the title is headed come the end of the season.
Kelantan: Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Farisham Ismail, Obinna Nwaneri, S. Subramaniam, Zamri Ramli (Rizal Fahmi Rosid 46'), S. Chanturu, Shakir Shaari, Mohd Badri Radzi, Nurul Azwan (Indra Putra Mahayuddin 67'), Norfarhan Mohamad, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (Azlan Ismail 85').
LIONSXII: Hyrulnizam Juma'at, Juma'at Jantan, Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin (Sevki Sha'ban 43'), Irwan Shah, Isa Halim, Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman, Yasir Hanapi, Shahril Ishak (Khairul Amri 75'), Khairul Nizam (Sufian Anuar 85').